The role of fungi in fire prone eucalypt forest communities and effects of frequent burning on fungal networks.

Fungi play important roles in many ecosystems, however they are often ignored in ecological studies. Suggestions have been made that, should the world’s large mammals suddenly disappear, most ecosystems would probably continue to function, but if the fungi disappeared, many of the earth’s ecosystems would soon collapse. Now that’s something to think about! Within forests, fungi decompose litter and logs, cause many plant diseases, and even grow within roots of most plants to increase nutrient uptake from soil. It is well accepted that fire and the Australian bush go hand in hand, but disturbance from fire can affect fungi and may influence these essential functions they perform within forests. Much research on fire in Australian forests has been done; we know about minimising risk to people and property with prescribed burning, and we know how our native plants and animals respond to fire, but what about the fungi? Despite their importance, their widespread occurrence, and their enormous diversity, a great deal about fungal ecology, biology and relationships with plants remains a mystery. The PhD project I am working on aims to remove some of this mystery by looking at fungi in Australian forests and how they are affected by fire. I am focusing on the responses of mushrooms and belowground fungi to fuel reduction burning in mixed eucalypt forests. Using new and old methods I am investigating the function of different types of fungi, measuring species diversity and estimating the amount and types of fungi in the soil to see how regular low intensity burning influences fungal communities. Results of this study will contribute to the limited information on fungal ecology in Australia and increase our understanding of fire effects on forest biodiversity.

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